Midweek host Libby Purves on Turning Down Pick of the Week role: “I’m not Alan Partridge”

As the final episode of Midweek looms, Purves says she was offered another job at the station but “I’m not going to take something just for the sake of being on Radio 4"

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Libby Purves, longtime host of the eclectic Radio 4 programme Midweek, has revealed that in the wake of its axing she turned down an offer to become the presenter of Pick of the Week, the station’s Sunday-evening round-up of the week’s best radio.

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Purves, 67, has presented Midweek for the past 34 years, but with its final edition going out on 29th March her future with the station remains uncertain.

It was announced in December that after Midweek finished, Purves would move to presenting a new Radio 4 programme about theatre but she subsequently pulled out. Now she has revealed to Radio Times that at the time she was offered the theatre programme, she was made a second offer.

“They wanted me to become the permanent, all-year presenter of Pick of the Week,” she said. “It’s a perfectly agreeable programme. I enjoy it. I’ve often had things on it. But it’s a links-speak job, and it’s not what I wanted to do.”

Pick of the Week has for many years had a rotating cast of presenters — generally radio insiders who are not household names — so a move to a permanent presenter would mark a big change of direction. The presenter chooses their favourite moments from BBC radio programmes that have gone out over the previous seven days, but also responds to listeners’ suggestions. 

“I’m not Alan Partridge,” Purves said. “I’m not going to take something just for the sake of being on Radio 4. If a programme challenges me or interests me, that’s different. But I’m in my mid-60s. I maybe have 10 years left in me, and I don’t want to dribble it away on things I don’t really want to do.”

Purves, who is publishing a book telling the story of Midweek, has come up with one programme idea for Radio 4 that is currently under consideration which she described as “a bit wacko” — but at the moment the only guarantee of hearing her voice again on the station is a documentary she is making about the new theatre being created by former National Theatre boss Nicholas Hytner, due to be broadcast in the autumn. 

Midweek began in 1979. Hosts in its early days included Russell Harty and Henry Kelly, with Purves taking over the presenter’s chair in 1983, where she has remained ever since. Broadcast live, it has brought together an eclectic range of guests, mixing the well-known with the little known — a companion programme to Start the Week on Mondays and Loose Ends on Saturdays, which evolved out of Stop the Week. 

The decision to axe Midweek is one that Purves said had never been fully explained to her. “Nobody has given me any kind of big philosophical reason for it. They wanted to put something else in, and the other programmes they could have moved they are not going to move. They wanted Wednesday. But that is the Controller’s choice. Controllers control and that’s just how it is.”

The Contoller in question is Gwyneth Williams, who said of bringing Midweek to an end that “the Radio 4 schedule has to evolve at the right moments in the station’s history and I want to bring the most compelling mix of programmes to our discerning listeners.” In place of Midweek comes Only Artists, a series of one-on-one conversations between two arts figures, starting on 5th April with Grayson Perry and Naomi Alderman. “I might listen to the new programme,” Purves said. “If I’m not busy.” 

Libby Purves’s That Was Midweek That Was — The Story of a Radio Programme 1979-2017 is published by Songsend at £5 and available to buy from Midweekbook@gmail.com

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Read an interview with Libby Purves in the new issue of Radio Times magazine, in shops and via iTunes from Tuesday